On Tour offers a warts-and-all portrait of the showbiz lifestyle and yet still manages to be tremendously sensuous and at times transcendent.
Best known to UK audiences as an actor of ferocious intensity whose performances in films like The Diving Bell and the Butterfly earned him a call up as a Bond villain, Mathieu Amalric is also a filmmaker with several shorts and a number of accomplished features to his name. He carries off with panache his role as the Renaissance man of contemporary French cinema.
On Tour may have been derided by critics when it screened in Cannes, but it went on to secure a Best Director prize. The nucleus of the negativity was the perception that the film is too freewheeling and digressive. It is, but this approach suits the material perfectly and gives On Tour its considerable charm and dissolute character.
Joachim (Amalric), a former Parisian television producer, has left everything behind – children, friends, enemies, lovers, regrets – to start a new life in America. He comes back with a team of burlesque performers to whom he has fed fantasies of a tour of France and, most enticingly, of Paris. Travelling from port to port, the curvaceous showgirls invent an extravagant fantasy world of warmth and hedonism, despite the constant round of impersonal hotels and lack of money.
The show gets an enthusiastic response from men and women alike, but their dream of a last grand show in the capital goes up in smoke when Joachim is betrayed by an old friend.
Inspired by Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette’s 'The Other Side of the Music Hall', a candid account of the writer’s experiences performing in the provinces as part of a repertory group putting on a scandalous pantomime, On Tour’s closest cinematic forebear is John Cassavetes’ The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. The two films share both a familiarity with the underbelly of showbiz and a pronounced sense of melancholy, specifically regarding their central character.
Like Ben Gazzara’s hapless nightclub owner, Joachim has grown accustomed to failure. A man who has made a hash of his personal affairs, Joachim has also made some unfortunate choices in business. An essentially good-natured soul who dreams of regaining the power and prestige he once commanded, he is a prince without a kingdom. Reluctantly directing himself for the first time after a suitable leading man couldn’t be found, Amalric is magnetic.
A road movie of sorts that follows its own idiosyncratic itinerary, On Tour offers a warts-and-all portrait of the showbiz lifestyle and yet still manages to be tremendously sensuous and at times transcendent.
A fleeting nocturnal connection between Joachim and a lonely garage cashier (played by the luminous Aurélia Petit) is incredibly touching, while the film’s conclusion at the empty swimming pool of an out-of-season hotel is amongst the finest and most thrillingly executed sequences in recent French cinema.
The film comes with a major prize from Cannes but also trails some negative comments from the press.
An immediate and thrilling experience. The jukebox soundtrack perfectly complements the tremendously assured sense of character and place.
Strangely liberating, the ending is worth the price of admission alone.